In this podcast Nick and Brett interview Josh Bartlome, the CEO of Southern Idaho Solid Waste. Josh is in charge of a huge operation. Josh is an all around smart guy and show us a lot of unknown factors into what happens with our waste. He also shows us what they are doing to deflect the amount of waste into the landfill for recycling.
Brett Ekart (00:03):
Welcome to Recycled Idaho, where two recycling industry veterans, Brett Ekart, Nick Snyder, explore Idaho businesses and organizations that are putting in the work to keep Idaho environmentally and economically viable at the same time.
Brett Ekart (00:19):
Take a listen to how these entrepreneurs, business owners and operators are making things happen in the great state of Idaho.
Brett Ekart (00:27):
In this podcast, Nick and I made our way over to Burley, Idaho to sit down with Josh Bartlome and Nate Francisco of Southern Idaho Solid Waste. These two guys are making waves in the solid waste industry and they’re doing it right here in Idaho. Take a listen and go check out the YouTube version of this podcast as there are some great videos shot of the landfill’s daily operations.
Brett Ekart (00:48):
Sitting here with Nick Snyder, United Metals, Josh Bartlome.
Nick Snyder (00:50):
Happy to be here.
Josh Bartlome (00:50):
Brett Ekart (00:54):
Southern Idaho Solid Waste, thanks for taking the time Josh, much appreciated. So for those of you that don’t know out there, Josh Bartlome is the CEO and the President of Southern Idaho Solid Waste. For those of you who don’t know about Southern Idaho Solid Waste, Josh you want to give us a little background on the structure, kind of the organization of it?
Josh Bartlome (01:22):
So we’re kind of a one of a kind operation. I didn’t know how one of a kind we were until I started to look at other solid waste districts in the United States. And I found that we operate independently of anybody else that we’ve seen out there.
Josh Bartlome (01:42):
Generally speaking, when you have a solid waste district, you have an enterprise fund and whatever revenue you generate, it basically funds you for whatever you need to. We’re not like that and the big thing that kind of sets us apart from any other business is everybody’s in it to make money, right?
Brett Ekart (02:07):
Josh Bartlome (02:08):
We’re not in it to make money. We’re owned by seven counties, so in South Central Idaho, we basically handle all of the solid waste disposal for about 11000 square miles. We’ve got seven different counties that own the solid waste district and when you talk about our operation, once the garbageman picks up the waste from your house, they take it to one of our facilities, that’s called transfer station. So they expose all of their waste at the transfer station, but it’s still got to get to the landfill.
Josh Bartlome (02:42):
So once that garbageman comes to one of our sites, they dispose of all of their solid waste on the tipping floor and then we push that waste into a truck and then we haul it from one of our 15 sites to our regional landfill. And then we place it in the landfill for final disposal.
Josh Bartlome (03:00):
So we kind of handle every aspect of solid waste minus picking it up from your curbside and then we also have a lot of diversion programs in between. So we’re owned by seven counties, we’ve been in the business since 1994 and we’ve been operating ever since and I think when you talk about solid waste and the way that we’re set up, I think a lot of people look at the advantages that we have with taking advantage of the economies of scale with all seven counties and reducing the total cost of your operation.
Josh Bartlome (03:39):
And I think since we’ve been in here for you know, about 25 years, the counties who own us, they really take a look and they understand the benefit that we provide to them because our costs are so low compared to anybody else.
Josh Bartlome (03:56):
When you’re looking at tipping fees, our tipping fees are at 16 dollars a ton, which is [inaudible 00:04:03]-
Brett Ekart (04:03):
Compared to, we deal with a lot of states, I mean a lot of companies in Oregon, especially start going to the Northwest Coast and that’s unheard of, right?
Brett Ekart (04:11):
What are the counties, which counties, what are the seven counties?
Josh Bartlome (04:15):
So the seven counties that own us are Twin Falls County is the largest county with population. We go as far north as Blaine County, which is the Sun Valley, Ketchum, Bellevue area. We go as far west as Gooding County, Lincoln County is one of our counties, Jerome County, Cassia County and Minidoka County. So basically the chunk of South Central Idaho is our district.
Brett Ekart (04:43):
Nick Snyder (04:43):
How many regional landfills are there? Then if you have seven counties, how many regional ones are broken down?
Josh Bartlome (04:50):
So out of the regional system in the state of Idaho, we are the only regional solid waste district as of right now. Because of the economies of scale and the flexibility that we have in our operation, you’ve got other counties that are starting to look at solid waste districts in the state and now in the southeast side of the state, there’s a new solid waste district that’s trying to form and they’re trying to take the same structure that we have and duplicate what we’re doing in Eastern Idaho.
Nick Snyder (05:22):
That’s awesome. And the tipping fees, do you re-evaluate those year-to-year or have they been pretty consistent?
Josh Bartlome (05:29):
So our budget is really difficult, you know? Because we’re owned by seven different counties, when counties typically have a budget meeting right, they’re looking at one department. And one department is your operations, your employees and the other things that you need, right?
Josh Bartlome (05:47):
Well we’ve got seven different counties and not only are we doing landfill, we also have transportation, we have operations at transfer stations, we have a landfill gas-to-energy facility that we’re producing gas off of, or our electricity off of. So we’re pretty sporadic and we’ve got a lot of moving parts here and you don’t realize how in-depth you are unless you’re a part of the solid waste district.
Josh Bartlome (06:13):
Our thing is we don’t want to be out in the news for anything negative obviously, but we want to be in the news for things that are positive. And our direction is let’s keep costs low for our counties, nobody can ever complain about that and that’s what we take pride in. Our tipping fee of 16 dollars per ton is I think one of the lowest in the nation, we’re probably the lowest 1% of the industry.
Josh Bartlome (06:41):
But a typical tipping fee for the state of Idaho is 55 and even up in Northern Idaho, you’re at 100 dollars a ton.
Nick Snyder (06:48):
Brett Ekart (06:48):
Especially if there’s like a transfer in the middle of it, seems like that’s where you get into your higher tip fees, just kind of my outside perspective looking in is when you got to go to a transfer facility which then has to go to the actual landfill where the material is getting processed.
Josh Bartlome (07:04):
Yeah you’re right. In a lot of those situations too, a transfer station might be owned by a private company and the landfill might be owned by a county or a private company as well, so then there’s always middlemen in between that as well. The good thing about us is we own everything in between.
Josh Bartlome (07:19):
So our whole goal is keeping costs low, but that’s not to jump over things that are important like safety as well. So our whole thing is let’s keep the cost low so that our residents aren’t getting overcharged for solid waste. So if we keep them happy, in turn we can have a good operation and do what we do.
Brett Ekart (07:41):
So let’s back it up, the train like a little bit and out of the landfill part and just talk about you, kind of your background, where you came from, how you got into the landfill industry. And just kind of give everybody a little bit of perspective.
Brett Ekart (07:58):
You’re a young guy, you’ve done pretty well with where you’re at. It’s just I always think it’s good to take young people and say, “Explain to me how you got here, what the path was, where you went to school, what got you involved in the industry.” And just kind of expand on that for us for a little bit.
Josh Bartlome (08:18):
So the one thing I’ve noticed in solid waste is when you talk about people’s stories, they don’t have a story that says, “When I was a little kid, I wanted to be in solid waste.” It seems like you just end up in solid waste because you’re there. You know it’s a lot like any other profession.
Josh Bartlome (08:33):
But my trek to get where I was, was a little bit off the beaten path. I went to school at Washington State University on a baseball scholarship. I loved Washington State, we visit there every year, we go back for football.
Josh Bartlome (08:51):
Once I was done with school, I got into the workforce, right? I like to do stuff, I like to be physical, I grew up in a construction household, my dad ran projects. From me being a little kid, I can remember going out on the job site and stripping forms and oiling forms. So I knew I wanted to do something like that.
Josh Bartlome (09:12):
It just so happened the way the cards fell, there was a guy who owned a gate business putting security gates together and he hired me because I didn’t have a job and we were talking.
Brett Ekart (09:22):
You had already graduated school at that point?
Josh Bartlome (09:24):
Brett Ekart (09:24):
I like it.
Josh Bartlome (09:26):
And he said, “Hey I’d like to offer you this job.” And I’m thinking, “Why are you offering, you don’t know anything about me?” And we had a conversation, we had a great conversation, we just clicked and he offered me a job. So for about four years I was traveling between Twin Falls and Sun Valley and we were putting big, intricate metal gates at big homes and I really liked it. And they’re not big construction projects, but little, smaller construction projects, that’s what I learned organization on.
Josh Bartlome (09:58):
When I bought my first house, I actually bought my first house across the street from the guy who ran the solid waste district. We were neighbors, we were good friends, but I always flew my Washington State flag and he went to University of Washington, so during football season we always had our Washington flags.
Brett Ekart (10:17):
Josh Bartlome (10:18):
That’s right, Albert Cup. I lost a lot of bets on that. But that’s what started our relationship was the comradery between football and the state of Washington. He had a job open up for an environmental specialist, he knew what I went to school for. I went to school, I took a lot of environmental science classes and he said, “You should take a look at this job.”
Josh Bartlome (10:43):
And at the time, I didn’t have insurance, I was paying for my vacation, I thought, “Well this could be great.” I had kids at the time, so I had to start providing.
Nick Snyder (10:52):
Where you still worked? The gate company?
Josh Bartlome (10:55):
Yeah I was still with the gate company. So I took a look at the job description, I applied and I didn’t think much of it, I didn’t think I was going to get the job, but it was a great opportunity, so I applied and came out, did my interview and we still clicked and he hired me for the job.
Josh Bartlome (11:14):
I was the environmental specialist for five years with Southern Idaho Solid Waste and we had a really good working relationship. When I was doing the environmental specialist stuff, any environmental program I was in charge of, any diversion program that we had I was in charge of and that first five years was a good opportunity for me to network with the people in the organization, create relationships.
Brett Ekart (11:39):
Really learn the business.
Josh Bartlome (11:40):
Really learn the business.
Brett Ekart (11:40):
Inside and out.
Josh Bartlome (11:41):
And from the people who were doing it, when I was visiting the transfer stations I’d, “Oh, what’s going on? What do you guys need?” Even though at the time I couldn’t get them what they needed, I still wanted to know what they did, if I could do something I would.
Josh Bartlome (11:54):
And I’ve learned a lot from that and when my boss retired, I really didn’t think that I wanted to be the CEO right away. I knew I wanted to someday, but I didn’t know if I was ready for it then. So I submitted my application and I submitted my resumé and my whole thing was I wanted the board to understand that I wanted the job in the future and it just so happened that they hired me then.
Josh Bartlome (12:22):
And I didn’t know that I was ready for the job, but I’ve got a really competitive spirit and when they offered it to me I was like, “Okay, this is it. This is my opportunity, so fly with it.”
Josh Bartlome (12:36):
And when I was hired, that was eight years ago and we’ve done a lot of really good improvements here at the solid waste district since then. So we’ve just been building on those relationships and it’s been a little bit of a weird transition to get to where I’m at, but I wouldn’t change it because I love what I do, I love the people that we deal with.
Brett Ekart (12:55):
Team sports man, I always said team sports are huge. Anybody that’s played team sports, whether your middle school, high school, college or beyond, when it comes to business, there’s such a transfer of how to be on a team where there’s a bunch of different personalities, a bunch of different alpha males or females or whatever that saying is.
Brett Ekart (13:20):
It just teaches you a lot on how to get along, which a lot of business in an organization like this, especially from your position is you’re trying to get a bunch of people to get along and work with each other and fight for the same goals. I’ve always said team sports just, man they transfer so much in the business.
Josh Bartlome (13:41):
Yeah you learn a lot. When you’re a little kid you don’t understand the things that you’re learning in sports, but you have competitive advantage, you always want to win. But at the same token, you’re also looking at the people who are coaching you and you’re seeing how they’re getting your team to work together towards goals.
Josh Bartlome (14:00):
So even though I was in sports, I learned a lot from that, but you realize that your team is an organization and you’re essentially the coach and it’s up to you on whether you have a winning team or not. It really comes down to it’s all on my shoulders and we’re a big proponent of lead by example and that goes back to sports. You never want somebody on the team that’s not giving their all because everybody, they get disappointed with those players, so it makes you all strive to be the best that you can be, that’s what I’ve found it.
Brett Ekart (14:35):
No, I think it’s huge. So when you took it over, when you went from environmental specialist to now the CEO, the president, was there a big surprise? Was there something just kind of like the difference between the two positions or just the difference once you kind of got to the top and you now became the coach? Something you had to, that kind of made your eyes get big?
Josh Bartlome (14:59):
The number one apparent thing is I told you earlier that I like to be active, so I went from a real active role where I was always out doing stuff to sitting in front of my computer.
Josh Bartlome (15:10):
So the first two years of this job, I gained 40 pounds because I was learning. I was in learning mode, I was in front of my computer. Any type of material that I could get, I wanted to grasp and retain and so I put on some pounds for that, but that was the negative thing.
Josh Bartlome (15:28):
I’d say the biggest surprise though when I took over was I had an ops mind, my mind is something that if somebody says, “Hey do you think we could do it this way?” I say yes before we can and then I figure it out afterwards, but when I figure it out, I want it to be the right way. So I’m a get it done person and I’m good with money too, but that was never part of my job.
Josh Bartlome (15:49):
You know I have my budget, my things that I needed to take care of, but now we’ve got a 10-million-dollar budget that we’re talking about and how do you get that? We had a very intricate budget I was talking about earlier and I’d say that was the biggest learning curve, but luckily our CFO was our first employee that we hired with the solid waste district. So who better to learn from than the person that’s been doing it the longest?
Josh Bartlome (16:15):
So she spent some time with me and if it wasn’t for her, I’d probably still be lost, but she taught me the ropes and I’d say the first year, the finances were the biggest issue. But I know that I’ve got good people in place so even though I didn’t know everything from the beginning, I had a lot of respect for the people that had been and knew that they could show me the ropes so we did good with that transition.
Brett Ekart (16:37):
No, that makes sense, 100%. So what do you think the biggest challenge, is the biggest challenge that you kind of faced, but what is the biggest challenge that the landfill, solid waste industry faces that you’re seeing right now? Maybe just from your perspective in Idaho or as a whole, I mean what’s kind of the big, I don’t know, I’m trying to think of the word, but just the biggest challenge that you’re going to see or that you’re seeing right now? To get people to understand what you do everyday, is that one of them?
Josh Bartlome (17:11):
Yeah, I think if you don’t know solid waste, if you’ve never had a job in solid waste, you don’t know what to expect and you’ve got a lot of assumptions about what the solid waste industry is. And I think that we’re kind of in the same boat with that is you guys have scrap and we’re the landfill, right?
Brett Ekart (17:29):
Josh Bartlome (17:30):
So people don’t always think the highest of landfill people or scrap people, right?
Brett Ekart (17:36):
Josh Bartlome (17:36):
But it doesn’t mean that we’re bad people, that’s just your assumption from the beginning of what we do and my feeling is people don’t know what we do, so it’s our job to let them know what we do. We have a lot of great people that work for us and we have a lot of people that get things done that work behind the scenes. So just trying to change the perception of the solid waste industry to be professional and efficient and well-ran.
Josh Bartlome (18:09):
That’s been our biggest issue, but I think with the last three or four years of the projects that we’ve done here at the landfill, I think our community, our surrounding community is starting to understand why solid waste is such an important infrastructure.
Josh Bartlome (18:25):
You think of water and sewer and lights and you think, “Man if we don’t have lights, what are we going to do?” But flip that script and say, “Well if there were nobody coming around to pick up your garbage, what do you do?” And so it’s important and it’s important for your community to know what it is that you do. So that’s a big challenge for us and you just got to stay steadfast at it and stay with the community, but that’s always been a big one for us.
Nick Snyder (18:53):
How do you get the information to the community with this? Social media, internet, is there newsletters? How do you get new information to them if you want something done a little different on their end?
Josh Bartlome (19:06):
So we try to do stuff as efficient and effective as we can. We don’t have a lot of people out there pushing that stuff through. We don’t have a public outreach coordinator. We are very lean. So for us, it pays to have good relationships with people in the community so we have something that’s going on. Most of the time, the news outlets are approaching us about it, but if they’re not approaching us about something that’s going on, we’ve been able to approach them and they’ve been able to get the word out for us on a lot of this stuff.
Josh Bartlome (19:44):
Other than that, we do internal emails and stuff, we don’t do newsletters, but if you check out our website, it’s just sisw.org. We do a lot of things, we think video’s a big thing in the future. We hired some people to get some videos together because we asked ourselves the same question, “How can we get this information out to people?” So we took it upon ourselves to hire a digital company to come in and show people what we are and what we did and we put those online on our website.
Josh Bartlome (20:15):
Every time we go out too, we do a lot of civic presentations to Rotary, Kiwanis, stuff like that, so that’s another way that we can get our information out to the community.
Brett Ekart (20:24):
So give us, you’ve kind of referred to a couple projects and I’ve seen it with my own eyes and I can’t wait to put it on video, but give us a couple big projects that you guys have done here. I mean what I love about with the Recycled Idaho podcast, what I love about interviewing you is even your logo, right? You have the state of Idaho with the international recycling symbol, people don’t, when they think about landfills, they don’t think about recycling, they think about scrap metal.
Brett Ekart (20:54):
We’ve been recycling since the turn of the century and people don’t think about the scrap metal recycling business as a recycling business, right? It’s more of a commodities business. With landfill, the same thing, I think people don’t realize how much recycling is going on and not just recycling from a commodities standpoint, but recycling from like a gas standpoint or something like that.
Brett Ekart (21:16):
So just touch on a few of your kind of big projects that you’ve implemented since you’ve been here and kind of just a brief explanation of how they work.
Josh Bartlome (21:26):
So I’d say probably the biggest project that we’ve done in recent years is we had a landfill gas-to-energy facility. So when we place waste into the landfill, waste starts to decompose. It’s just like if you’re at your house and you throw something in the trash and you open the trash bin and you can start to smell that putrid gas, that’s the beginning of landfill gas.
Josh Bartlome (21:45):
So when you take that trash and put it in the landfill, it actually decomposes more and it creates a landfill gas. It is a gas, it can be omitted in the atmosphere, but we’re regulated to take that landfill gas and deconstruct it or do something beneficial with it.
Josh Bartlome (22:03):
So in 2014, we started looking at what do we do? We create this resource out there that is a natural resource just like oil or any other resource and when we’re sitting at this table and talking with my board of directors and they say, “Look, if we had oil underneath of us, we’d tap into it or if we had a gold mine, we’d be mining gold. Why are we not doing something with this landfill gas?”
Josh Bartlome (22:28):
So we started to take a look at our options and see what we could do and it came down to constructing a landfill gas-to-energy facility. So right now we’re producing enough gas off of the landfill to send it through a lot of different processes, you guys will see it in a little bit. But we’re producing enough electricity to power about 2000 small homes and that’s just coming off of the landfill.
Josh Bartlome (22:55):
So when you can do a beneficial use project off of something that you’re producing naturally, for us we’re trying to get a win-win you know? And everybody knows costs are going up right now and the only way we can generate more revenue is for us to raise our fees. We don’t want to do that if we don’t have to.
Josh Bartlome (23:13):
So we sold this, well not sold this, the board saw this project as a revenue generator and because it is generating revenue off of the power production, it will allow us to keep our costs lower for longer. So that was a four-year project for us that we jumped through hoops for. Idaho Power with our purchase agreement, through attorneys, financing, operations, construction, so that was a pretty difficult challenge, but we got through it, we got good people in place and it was probably the most fun that I’ve had on a project.
Brett Ekart (23:48):
Dollar amount-wise, start to finish, what’s the investment in a project like that for you guys and the community?
Josh Bartlome (23:56):
It’s not giant, you know you hear billion-dollar projects and 500-million-dollar projects, but for us it was an eight-million-dollar project and for us an eight-million-dollar project is pretty big.
Brett Ekart (24:07):
Eight million dollars is a big project when your annual budget is around 10, right? So it’s basically taking your annual budget, even though you’re spreading over four years and even if your finances, some of the equipment or however that works, it’s still a big project because it’s all in the scope of the entity that’s doing the project.
Brett Ekart (24:25):
I mean we look at the same way if we were to buy a piece of equipment, some big, large scrap metal recycling company, they buy five [inaudible 00:24:36] material handlers in a given period. If we buy one every couple of years, we feel like we’re doing pretty good, so I think it’s just all in the size of the entity that’s doing the project.
Josh Bartlome (24:45):
So to throw that on top, you hit a great point. You got a 10-million-dollar budget, an eight-million-dollar project, so another thing that my board asked me to do was, “Can you implement the project without raising your tipping fee?”
Josh Bartlome (24:59):
So we had to implement an eight-million-dollar project on a 10-million-dollar operating budget without increasing the tipping fee of 16 dollars per ton. That was the difficult part. That’s a lot to do, that’s a big ask and we just kept trekking along, trekking along until we got it done and so that was, it was a big project, but at the end of the tunnel when you complete those projects, it’s always, “Hey we did it, we did it. We didn’t hire somebody to do it, we did it.”
Josh Bartlome (25:32):
So that was, it’s always great to hear.
Brett Ekart (25:33):
We talk about that all the time internally is you know, when we take on a project, whether it’s a podcast, whatever else, we like to do the work ourselves. We could hire somebody, we could do this, we could do that, but I think you learn the most about it when you do it yourself. You get input from a lot of, we’ve taken input and got a lot of great input and feedback from a lot of different sources, do this and try this and look at it this way or whatever the case may be, but when you do it yourself, it’s a game changer because now you know that deal inside and out.
Josh Bartlome (26:12):
And another thing that was a big thing for us to switch over is we would hire people to come in and do a job, but we would always send one or two employees with them, so we had some history and we knew what was going on too. And it was employees coming back to us saying, “Hey we could do it a little bit better. Why are we hiring somebody when we can do it?” It was my employees approaching me saying, “Hey let’s do more, we could do this.”
Josh Bartlome (26:38):
And it’s kind of like, “Okay, if you want to do it, let’s do it.” It’s just built on to now we’re doing so many projects that solid waste, you would not think solid waste would be doing. And that’s the stuff that we like and our employees like and it builds that and it’s just this sustainable business with your employees. They don’t want to do the same thing every single day, so when you can get these things out there, they love the challenge and they like to complete them and they like to tell me, “I did it and I did it good.”
Brett Ekart (27:11):
And it’s recycling at it’s finest, I mean that is recycling. Recycling can be a ton of things, it can be cardboard, it can be aluminum cans, it can be mulch, but people just kind of, I think that one slips their mind, you know?
Josh Bartlome (27:28):
Brett Ekart (27:28):
Landfill gas, now you’re powering 2000 homes, the ability to power 2000 homes locally and you’re driving and you’re keeping the tip fees down which is, people don’t realize how important that is on just the granular level, the individual household. But when you’re talking about businesses that are paying to get rid of materials, whether it’s your building projects or whatever, I think it makes, when you talk about people developing facilities and stuff in Idaho, part of that is, is what’s it going to cost us to get rid of the waste? What’s it going to cost us for building demo? What’s it going to cost us for, I mean some of those costs get figured in and those are some times driving factors to get people to move from California or Washington, Oregon to Idaho. What the tip fees are? What’s the power cost?
Josh Bartlome (28:22):
Yeah, that’s all what we’re seeing right now. I mean in our area, I know up in the Boise here, you’ve seen a lot of growth too, but I think probably the Magic Valley area is probably the second highest in growth in the last four or five years. And we’re seeing the things that you’re talking about, we’re seeing city councils and county commissioners and economic development companies getting together and knowing how good of a business environment Idaho has.
Josh Bartlome (28:57):
And they’re bringing things out like look at the rate for power, look at the rate for water, look at your solid waste disposal fees and we have seen a lot of huge companies come into our area. Chobani, Clif Bar, there’s probably 15, 20 companies in here that have had huge, huge investments and that’s a turn of something that we’re dealing with and it’s just good business all around right now. It’s been a good five-year stretch for us in Southern Idaho.
Brett Ekart (29:28):
I would assume that a company like Chobani, as much power as they use and I would assume they create a decent amount of waste, solid waste, I mean those are two big decision factors when they decide where we’re going to move. Real property taxes, power cost, solid waste tipping fees, those are big line items for them.
Josh Bartlome (29:52):
They are and our company unfortunately, because we’re not on the economic development, we’re not recruiting these companies and we don’t sit on boards where we are recruiting those companies, we’re just dealing with solid waste. So it’s great that the community is growing, but that just makes us have to be that much more flexible. Because we are not always expecting the added volume, so we just have to deal with it and recalculate our moves and do it the right way.
Josh Bartlome (30:24):
So it’s been interesting, but it’s been great. We’ve seen, just in the last five years, our solid waste volumes go from 200000 tons to 260000 tons, that’s a huge volume.
Nick Snyder (30:40):
What time span is that?
Josh Bartlome (30:41):
In about five-year time span.
Nick Snyder (30:42):
That’s what that is? That’s not year in, year out?
Brett Ekart (30:47):
How many more employees does that take to handle that much more volume? I mean is it a double of the employee, is it a triple? I mean how many more, let’s say when you took over as president to today, how many more people are in the organization than when you started?
Josh Bartlome (31:04):
So when I started we were approximately right at the 50, 55 mark of full-time employees, right now we’re at about 75. We’ve got about 80 total employees, so we’ve increased about 20 employees during that time, but it’s not just from additional solid waste.
Josh Bartlome (31:25):
Since I’ve taken over, we didn’t do waste haul before, so we didn’t have trucks, we weren’t hauling our waste back and forth, we did to a couple counties. But when I took over, we saw we were going to see a huge increase on our contract, at least a 25% increase and at that point, Stephanie our CFO and I sat down and said, “Look, this is a huge increase, what if we bid against ourselves, what if we purchased our own trucks? What if we did it?” So that added some additional employees.
Josh Bartlome (31:54):
This landfill gas-to-energy facility adds employees. I’d say at the landfill itself, we probably added five employees from the 2000, 200000 tons until now. So we haven’t really increased a lot just because of solid waste volumes, it’s because our growth has opened and we’ve gone down so many different avenues, we’ve opened up our market internally.
Josh Bartlome (32:20):
But it’s been good, we don’t hire a lot of people, we like to stay with what we have and I like to incentivize my people. If we are doing the work of 10 people and we’re only doing it with eight, we try to see how can we accommodate them? Can we do something else for them? If we’re saving that money, maybe that means we can be more efficient with some equipment that we’re purchasing with them.
Josh Bartlome (32:44):
So it’s been a good five-year growth period and it’s been nice to see everything get to where it’s at, but my feeling is it’s not slowing down right now and I don’t see it slowing down too much in the next couple of years in our area.
Brett Ekart (33:00):
Yeah I was talking to Nate earlier and I mean it’s, we had the windows shut for light purposes, but you look outside right now and you guys got some good snow last night. One thing about the landfill industry I know is rain, sleet, snow, shine, 110, -10, the trash don’t stop coming. Waste doesn’t stop coming, you have to be able to work in all conditions, right?
Josh Bartlome (33:28):
Here’s the deal, in 25 years of operation, I think we’ve only closed our doors early or for the day six times in 25 years. So you’ve had a lot of events through then and it’s true, we had a fire a couple of years ago up in Sun Valley and we had to close the transfer station down for two weeks. And we got over 300 phone calls, “What do we do with our garb? What do we do?”
Josh Bartlome (33:53):
We just kind of had to deal with them, we were able to open up with sheriff’s deputies going in and firefighters and stuff, but it goes to show they came to us and said, “Can you open up your facility?” So it’s a need, it’s something that people have relied on and it’s something that you come to expect is solid waste disposal.
Brett Ekart (34:13):
And that’s the thing about the landfill industry is nobody likes to talk about it unless they’re trash isn’t disappearing. I was talking about, post that video the other day on that speech I gave last year at Boise State and I was telling my wife, “They think about trash, recycling, landfills, the blue bin, gray bin, that’s it and they’re on to the next one.” That’s why it’s super important to understand how it works.
Brett Ekart (34:42):
It’s super important to take the time as a community member or whatever and just understand what the landfill is doing for you because when that two-week period comes, when there’s a fire or something happens and your trash doesn’t disappear and it starts piling up in your garage or outside your house, then everybody seems to become a landfill expert.
Josh Bartlome (35:01):
Brett Ekart (35:02):
Like what should we do? How do we handle this? You’re like, “We’ve been doing this for a long time guys.”
Josh Bartlome (35:07):
So our motto is we like to be proactive instead of be reactive, so anything that we think is going to be a problem, we try to be proactive and fix it. But I think you hit the nail on the head, you have to know your business and I think when you look around at solid waste organizations or departments around the United States, I think you can look at how they operate and know if the person knows the business or not. Because you got to know what the business is and what you need to do to make the community right and your county commissioners or your board or your boss or whoever it is, you have to know the business.
Josh Bartlome (35:45):
And in order to have a good solid waste operation, you have to know the business in and out and I’m not just talking about me, but the people that we have, I trust these guys with knowing exactly what to do and how to operate, so it’s a good thing.
Brett Ekart (36:03):
So real quick, what do you enjoy the most about your job? What do you enjoy the most about the industry? What gets you up and gets you going for the day?
Josh Bartlome (36:13):
It’s the people. The first thing I do every morning when I come in is I talk with my key people, whether that’s calling somebody at a different site or just coming in and talking with the CFO or the environmental manager and saying, “Hey what’s on the agenda this week?” And just talking to people.
Josh Bartlome (36:30):
That’s the best thing is we’ve got some really great people and you don’t know that unless you talk to them and the thing that gets me up every morning is providing a safe work environment for our employees that they can come in, they can get paid a decent, competitive wage and provide for their family and be safe and go home every night to do it. And that’s really what gets me up and gets me going every time are the people that we work with everyday.
Brett Ekart (37:03):
Nick, what do you got bud?
Nick Snyder (37:04):
I saw you were in the 40 Under 40, I think I saw that on LinkedIn. If you could go back and give yourself maybe some advice when you’re in your 20s to build your career or someone else in their 20s, what would you do? And that same person that is trying to be a professional, build his career, trying to establish himself, how would you attract that person to the landfill industry?
Josh Bartlome (37:30):
So I attract people to the landfill industry every time I talk to them. I try to get the stigma to get away from what people think and I try to tell them what reality is about the solid waste industry. And it’s highly engineered, there’s a lot of science by it, there’s a lot of business in it, there’s big money, it’s big equipment and if you want to come in and do the same thing every day, solid waste isn’t your gig.
Josh Bartlome (37:58):
But this is something that you come in day in, day out, we have four-year projects that happen and you just got to plug away on them. So it’s not the same thing every day and I think that’s really important, but the biggest advice I could give to somebody coming in is if you’re entering the workforce and you really don’t know a lot about it or even you do, you might have a college degree in it, you don’t know the business yet. So my biggest advice is get involved in the business, but be as quiet as possible. Don’t make comments, just for the first year, year and a half, suck it all in, absorb it all in.
Nick Snyder (38:37):
Just put your head down and do it.
Josh Bartlome (38:39):
Listen, get all of that information and if you do that, I think after a year of doing that and starting to implement those things you’ve learned, you pick up a lot of pieces from the people that you work with or the people you work for and their direction of the company and you get some inside information. Instead of coming in with your own ideas, there might be ideas there in place and if you start talking beforehand, it starts to get the wheels off the track.
Josh Bartlome (39:08):
So listening and just absorbing everything we get in, that’s the biggest piece of advice that I would have to give, but solid waste and recycling industry is a great industry to get in.
Josh Bartlome (39:20):
I talked with a woman who works up at Republic Services up in Boise and she said, “You know, I started working at Republic Services out of college and I came here and the gal that I was taking the job for, she said, ‘Oh you’re going to love this job. Once you’re in solid waste, you never leave.’ And she looked at the girl and said, ‘Honey, this is just a stepping stone, I’m not going to be here for more than a couple years.'” And now I think she’s been with the company for 20 years and she hasn’t left.
Brett Ekart (39:50):
Just gets in your blood.
Josh Bartlome (39:52):
That is what it is, you get into it, you get sucked into it and you know what it is and it’s a great industry to be in.
Nick Snyder (39:58):
Yeah, once you learn there’s a future there, I mean from the culture you guys have here, I mean people can really see that there is a future, there’s room for growth, that they can put their head down.
Brett Ekart (40:08):
And it’s not going anywhere, right? I mean it’s consistent, but it’s growing. There’s going to be more recycling in five years than there’s going to be less recycling. I mean there’s going to be better methods of doing things in five years, not the same methods.
Brett Ekart (40:25):
I think that’s what always I love about the recycling industry is it’s always changing, something new, something’s coming, something different. And I said that was what always made it exciting for me, was it was always something new around the corner. It was a project or a piece of equipment or a way of handling something or a new place to ship it or whatever it was, it was never just the same old day-to-day, “I know what to expect. I’m going to be here for 40 years and nothing’s going to change.”
Josh Bartlome (40:55):
Nick Snyder (40:55):
Because we get that question a lot too, “Like what do you guys do? Is it the same thing every day?” Absolutely not, there’s always a new curveball every day almost, you know? Oh I didn’t see that and then with us, we’ve both been doing the recycling for a long time, everyone at this table, but I’m learning new stuff all the time or things change or the vendor for this product goes somewhere else, you know?
Nick Snyder (41:21):
So I think even being not really new to the industry, continuing to learn, that’s what going to those expos like at BSU coming up in March. Like those are really educational for myself because I don’t know a whole lot about the landfill end of it, but it’s nice for us to go there and just learn that much more and find out how we can help you guys on the metal recycling end.
Brett Ekart (41:45):
So give us a [inaudible 00:41:46] real quick before we go, tell us about the deal in March, tell us about your involvement in the industry and what your position is there and how you’ve helped promote the landfill industry here in Idaho.
Josh Bartlome (42:01):
So the Idaho Solid Waste Association is made up of anybody in the solid waste and recycling industry in the state of Idaho. We’ve got about 175 members, which is quite a bit, it’s a pretty big organization for solid waste and recycling, but that just goes to show how much interest there is.
Josh Bartlome (42:20):
Anybody who has a facility in Idaho is a part of what we do. We get together two times a year, one time in the spring, it’s an educational conference. So anything that’s going on in the industry, we hit that. We have probably 30 presentations on a two-day period and then we have operator training before that as well. So it’s a good opportunity for anybody that’s in the solid waste industry, whether you’re an engineer or an operator, an owner, anything to just be a part of a network with people and hit industry trends.
Josh Bartlome (42:53):
So that’s kind of what we do. We also do a tour in the fall where we go to a solid waste site and we do a two-day tour and we see as much as we can. This last year we went up to Roosevelt, Washington and we looked at a very large landfill up there and then a small city landfill.
Josh Bartlome (43:08):
So we like to get out and see what other people are doing because we know that’s where you learn and you can take people something to put in your operation. I’m the president of the Solid Waste Association right now. I’m on my last year, I’ve been a part of ISWA for a long time and I know that we’ve done a lot to get organized and get a direction for the Idaho Solid Waste Association. I know with all of the people that we have in place with the association, whoever takes over next, I know they’ll take that ball and run and just keep giving the organization a little bit better and better each year.
Brett Ekart (43:46):
So I’d love to end on this question just because I think it’s super fascinating. Depends on the individual, but give me like a mentor, somebody in your life that whether it’s in the industry, out of the industry, someone that’s kind of stood out to you that’s helped make you successful. To me, you’re successful, you’re under 40 years old, you’re the CEO, the president of a pretty large corporation, it’s not even a corporation, it’s like an extension of an entity, right?
Brett Ekart (44:21):
But give me somebody that’s really stood out to you.
Josh Bartlome (44:26):
So I’d say probably for non-business mentors, I’d say my parents. My dad was in the construction industry his whole life and that was great to see, you know [inaudible 00:44:38] the operations side on that. My parents were divorced growing up. My mom was a loan officer, so she really banged into my head having good credit, paying your bills, so I got the financial side from her and then the ops side from him.
Josh Bartlome (44:56):
You know you get stuff from your parents, morals and personality, so I got a lot of good things from both of them and they framed who I was as a person. Along with my stepmom as well, my stepmom and my dad raised me, I lived with them growing up. I visited my mom quite a bit every other weekend. So you get these things from your parents and they shaped me who I am. I’ve got faults and I know it, but they did a good job on trying to get the good morals out there for business.
Josh Bartlome (45:30):
And then I’d say as far as business goes, a mentor, it sounds kind of weird, but my wife. Every time that I think I want to do something or I’m kind of why do I want to join this board? Do I want to do this? She’s always the person behind me, supporting me saying, “Hey this is good for you, you’d be good at it, do it.”
Josh Bartlome (45:49):
So between [crosstalk 00:45:50].
Brett Ekart (45:50):
Kind of pushes you. It’s like your [crosstalk 00:45:51].
Josh Bartlome (45:51):
Oh bad, not bad, I shouldn’t say bad.
Brett Ekart (45:55):
But she pushes you to-
Nick Snyder (45:56):
Brett Ekart (45:57):
She pushes you to do things.
Josh Bartlome (45:57):
She pushes me to be a better person.
Brett Ekart (45:59):
Out of your comfort zone probably and I mean that’s a good spouse.
Josh Bartlome (46:03):
Yeah, you want the spouse to build you up right? And my wife is, she’s that person, I mean it’s awesome. So between having the good foundation from all three of my parents and then having the support from my wife, I’d say all of them mentored me to be the person who I am right now and my wife is still helping me out with that. So hopefully it’s a good thing in 10 years and we’ll see.
Brett Ekart (46:27):
All right, last one. If somebody wants to get ahold of you directly, what’s the best way?
Josh Bartlome (46:33):
Our email is really easy, SISW for Southern Idaho Solid Waste, so sisw.org. My email is jbartlome, B-A-R-T-L-O-M-E @sisw.org and I’m also on LinkedIn too. So Josh Bartlome on LinkedIn, any of those if you want to get ahold of me and contact me, information’s on the website or LinkedIn.
Brett Ekart (46:54):
Thank you sir, appreciate the time.
Josh Bartlome (46:55):
Appreciate the opportunity, you guys are awesome.
Nick Snyder (46:56):
Thank you, Josh.
Brett Ekart (47:01):
Thank you, Josh.
Josh Bartlome (47:01):
Brett Ekart (47:05):
Thank you for listening to another episode of Recycled Idaho and as we continue the journey across this great state, we look forward to bringing you more stories of people and organizations putting in the work to do the right thing.